Tuesday, October 26, 2021
HomeCOVID-19What if it all happens again?

What if it all happens again?

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IT’S April 2024, two weeks before the General Election in the UK.

Over the last few days a new respiratory virus has been discovered in patients in two London hospitals. Several have breathing difficulties and flu-like symptoms. Two are in intensive care and one has died. Not all their recent contacts can be traced.

Tests have shown that the virus – dubbed Covid-24 by news media – is a novel coronavirus of unknown origin but scientists are warning that this illness may be significantly more deadly than Covid-19. Estimates of ‘case fatality’ have ranged from 5 to 15 per cent.

Various epidemiological models have quickly emerged with a wide range of predictions. The most extreme ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ produced by a university predicts that unless urgent measures are taken up to 2million people of all ages may die and many more will become seriously ill.

News media have reacted with mostly sensationalist headlines and an atmosphere of hysteria seems to be brewing.

Public health experts have called for an immediate national lockdown. This request has been supported by an emergency meeting of the government advisory group, Sage.

However, unlike 2020 when the public complied almost fully with the imposition of massive restrictions, there has already been an organised political reaction from various anti-lockdown organisations which have grown in power since 2021.

Labour, the opposition party, has had a new leader for the past year. She has campaigned on a platform of protecting civil liberties and creating a system of direct democracy to ensure that political decision-making is no longer in the hands of only a few people.

She is reported as saying: ‘It is not clear how much of an emergency this new virus is. We need more information before we take any radical measures, and we need to engage the public in this decision. At this point the Labour Party calls for investigation and debate and will not support mandatory restrictions on normal life and behaviours.’

Most of the news media have immediately condemned Labour as ‘irresponsible’ and a ‘danger to public health’. One well-known newspaper has described the Labour leader as ‘public enemy number one’.

In order to reach a balanced decision, a deliberative democracy site has put out an urgent proposal for debate. It is open to the entire population over the age of 16 to contribute. This is the question:

It is proposed that any restrictions on normal living, including ‘social distancing’, travel and economic activity, must be voluntary.

What do you think?

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Hypothetical but far from out of the question, this scenario is open to debate over the next week on a real site dedicated to deliberative democracy: 

The project aims to show that thousands of citizens can be included in democratic decision-making which delivers sound practical outcomes.

Social issues are discussed in a deliberative fashion rather than decided via simple polling.

Situations are presented, with a proposal, and debated over a week.  Participants may agree or disagree and offer their reasons. Educational materials are provided from every perspective, debates between protagonists are arranged, and participants can read and comment on others’ views.

At the end of the week participants can respond to the proposal again. Everyone can see how opinions have changed.

We wish to include people from any and every background. All opinions are welcome. Nothing is censored, hidden or withheld. Everyone’s views and the patterns of their choices are immediately available to all participants, and there are filters to enable those who wish to ‘deep dive’ into the data.

The project has been running for two weeks now and already has over 1,000 members. We have debated several topical issues in depth, including ‘Covid passports’, ‘laws for democratic reform’, ‘sex and gender’ and ‘what if there were no political parties?’

We have had thousands of responses and much deep, supportive debate and conversation. The results and patterns are striking and point to a profound desire for a more inclusive democracy.

While the numbers are relatively small now, we are building a ‘proof of concept’ democratic tool we hope to make available to everyone.

If you wish to have a say this week about Covid-24 – and perhaps pave the way for a truly democratic solution if similar events actually transpire – simply email ‘I agree to be a member of this project’ or similar statement to Dr David Seedhouse at: david@values-exchange.com

This pilot project is a private initiative funded by VID.E (UK) Ltd. It is not affiliated with any other organisation.

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David Seedhouse
David Seedhouse is Honorary Professor of Deliberative Practice at Aston University.

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